By Dennis and Barbara Rainey
This question represents the longing of many wives who are growing in their faith but are married to men whose Christian growth seems stagnant or who seem unwilling to take the spiritual lead in the family. If one of these represents your situation, realize that you are not alone.
Therefore, this question actually can be broken into two parts: getting right with God, and becoming the spiritual leader in the family. Let’s look at them one at a time.
Getting Right With God
A good Scripture to start with is 1 Peter 3:1-4, which tells us:
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
Chances are that if your husband’s relationship with God is not right, you won’t win him back by exhorting or criticizing him. But your character can have a tremendous influence. In fact, your example—what 1 Peter 3 calls “the hidden person of the heart” evidenced by a “gentle and quiet spirit”—will do more to encourage and influence him than anything else.
So our first practical challenge to you is to make sure that you are growing spiritually. You are responsible to grow in your relationship with Christ regardless of your circumstances. A wife must not focus on her husband’s lack of spiritual qualities but on the bigger picture—that God desires to use her in his life to challenge him spiritually. The prayer and hope is that your godly life will challenge your husband and motivate him to grow.
Second, focus on being a godly wife. In Titus 2:4, older women are instructed to train the younger women to “love their husbands.” Initially that’s an easy job, because most of us get married while we’re “in love.” After the feelings fade, though, we have to remember that love is a commitment.
Ephesians 5:22 tells us, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” To submit to your husband’s leadership is to support his leadership. It means being an encouraging, believing wife who allows her husband to be the leader in the family. It doesn’t mean being a doormat. You should share your opinions, your thoughts and feelings, and make decisions together. Obviously, it helps to choose the right time, the right place, and the right tone. Ultimately, though, you support your husband’s decisions.
A few verses later, Ephesians 5:33 says, “The wife must respect her husband.” There are times when that’s a hard job; you may not feel that your husband is worthy of respect. However, you are still commanded to respect him. Even if there are many things that he has done wrong, you can find something to respect. Try to remember what you respected about him when you were dating. Does he work hard to financially support the family? Does he play ball with your son?
He may not be doing all that you wish, but you have to focus positively on the things that he is doing. Verbalize to him your appreciation. When you affirm him and let him know that you value his work, it will be easier for him to continue to lead lovingly.
Third, give this situation over to God and ask Him to work in your husband’s life. As I inferred in the last point, too often the wife of a spiritually-struggling husband will try to take the place of the Holy Spirit in his life. Your husband needs to come to a point of repentance and humility, where he cries out to God for forgiveness and asks Him to change his life. Ultimately, only God can do that. Ask God to do whatever it takes to change your husband’s lifestyle. And then leave it in His capable hands.
Finally, invite your husband to attend a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway or to consider joining a HomeBuilders Couples Series® group. Many lukewarm men have attended a conference thinking it would simply be a romantic getaway with their wives. They have come for the romance, but they’ve come away with something much more—a renewed relationship with God. There is no guarantee that he will respond to the truth, but it might be a wake-up call for him. We’ve met hundreds of men whose lives were spiritually changed at the conference. And many husbands are encouraged by the small-group nature of HomeBuilders study with other couples.
Providing Spiritual Leadership
Many of you have husbands who are walking with God, but are not providing spiritual leadership in the family. This is a common problem in many families today. Many men today have become passive in their families. And many others want to provide spiritual leadership, but just don’t know how.
So our first suggestion is to look realistically at your situation and, if necessary, lower your expectations. When we were married, it never occurred to me (Barbara) that Dennis did not know how to provide spiritual leadership and that this had to be learned. A wife needs to understand that it may take years for a man to grow spiritually so that he can lead his wife in this area. Many men did not have a good model of spiritual leadership in their homes as they grew up.
Our next suggestion is to recognize there are different ways to give spiritual leadership in the home. One common misconception is that spiritual leadership means you have devotions each day. A man can give spiritual leadership in all kinds of other ways. Sometimes we underestimate the value of things like a husband loving his wife, resolving conflict biblically, asking a child for forgiveness, teaching and modeling a proper respect for authority, and providing a loving and encouraging environment within the home. These are all critical marks of a spiritual leader, especially in a culture like ours.
Here’s the key: If he is pointing his children to Christ, and to the Scripture, then he is giving spiritual leadership. It does not have to just be in a formal Bible study. Be grateful for what you get. Pray that God will give your husband a heart to want to lead the family spiritually. Be patient, because it may not come as quickly as you would like.
Third, evaluate how your personality differences contribute to your perception of spiritual leadership. Sometimes there are certain types of personalities that we tend to think of as being a biblically approved leadership style. There is only biblically approved character, not biblically approved personality. Learn to appreciate the differences between you and your husband and accept them. It may be that God has made you different in your leadership abilities and styles so that you really do need one another.
Fourth, carefully evaluate if you are inhibiting your husband’s spiritual leadership by taking the lead yourself. This is a difficult issue, because your role as a mother means you need to be involved in providing spiritual direction and character development for your children even if your husband is not. But if you sense that your husband’s problem is a lack of confidence, and he is instinctively looking to you to set the spiritual atmosphere in the home because of your experience or your spiritual maturity, you may actually be robbing him of the opportunity to become the leader God desires. You may need to pull back a bit and trust God to grow your husband into a godly leader.
Finally, do everything you can to encourage your husband. Ask your spouse what you can do to encourage him to lead spiritually. That may mean having the table set for dinnertime devotions with the Bible beside his placemat. On the other hand, it may mean finding some material to help him plan and schedule family nights. Are there things that you can do to help take the load off your husband, so that he is able to do the most basic functions? It may mean going to bed early so you have time to read the Bible together. It may be simply asking him if he wants to pray. Find out what helps him and then do it.
Also, be sure to affirm your husband for what he does do right. Even if it is as little as praying over meals, thank him for the spiritual leadership that he does initiate. See if you can find some areas where he is leading and begin to appreciate and thank him for those.